Fish: How often should I eat it?

Dear Alice,

How often should I eat fish?

Dear Reader, 

This is a simple question for which there is no simple answer! How much fish is recommended for a given person depends on a variety of factors, including your specific health concerns, the type of fish you like to eat, how much you weigh, whether you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, and how much fish you eat per sitting. In addition to being quite tasty, fish can have many nutritional benefits, such as being low in saturated fat, a good source of protein, and chock full of omega-3 fatty acids. Eating a variety of fatty fish (e.g., salmon, tuna, herring, etc.) at least twice a week can reduce the of risk from dying of heart disease by almost 36 percent. 

Most people can eat fish without being concerned, but pregnant and breastfeeding people and young children may want to be more mindful of their consumption. Nearly all fish and shellfish, both freshwater and saltwater, contain traces of mercury due to industrial pollution. In high levels, mercury can be particularly harmful for pregnant people and young children. Generally, fish that are old, large, or eat other fish will have accumulated the most mercury. This results in lots of variation in mercury levels when it comes to different species of fish. If you’re trying to lower your consumption of mercury, there are three primary factors to monitor. These include the type of fish, the frequency you eat it, and the amount you eat per meal (a typical serving is about four ounces). Additionally, some other good general guidelines to follow for fish consumption are: 

  • Eat fish that are lower in mercury. These include anchovies, clams, oysters, herring, tilapia, whiting, shrimp, sardines, salmon (in some cases), and a few others. 
  • Eat less fish that are higher in mercury. These include tuna (especially steaks and sushi), Chilean sea bass, sharks, swordfish, eel, halibut, and marlin. 
  • Eat a variety of fish. As an alternative to completely cutting high mercury fish out of your diet, simply eating a variety will make it more likely that some of the fish you consume is of the lower mercury variety. 
  • Eat smaller (or fewer) servings of fish. Eating fish less frequently and eating smaller amounts will help keep mercury levels in check. 

To get a more precise calculation of how often to eat fish, you can check out the United States Food and Drug Administration Advice about Eating Fish. If you’re still concerned about the how much fish to have in your diet and if there are any restrictions based upon your individual health needs, you could make an appointment with your health care provider or a registered dietitian to discuss them further. 

Bon appétit! 

Last updated May 28, 2021
Originally published Mar 27, 2014

Submit a new comment


This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

The answer you entered for the CAPTCHA was not correct.